Steve “Stef” Stefanides
In today’s world of instantaneous news and the digital matrix that winds through our lives without missing a beat, how does an individual restore his good name and reputation after allegations are brought that are found to be baseless, months, and even years, after they have been on the front page?
Such was the case in the last year or so, as four of our public servants on Marco have been accused by others of “ethical violations.” Those allegations have now been found baseless, but instilled hurt and stained those four reputations.
We continue to wonder aloud why good people fail to step up and offer their knowledge and time to serve on the local, state and federal levels. Why would you, if the result is an attack on your integrity, your family and your reputation going forward?
This injustice occurred over a year ago when Councilman Joe Batte was attacked, vilified and smeared in local media outlets for alleged abuse of his office. An Ethics Commission ruling found no basis for the claims, but took about 16 months to investigate and dispense with the charges, clearing Batte of any wrong doing. All this, during a time when Batte’s family was dealing with a family tragedy of enormous proportions.
The worst of it was that one of his fellow council members orchestrated the arrival of electronic media to attend at least one council meeting for an electronic lynching, while he engaged in a self-righteous demand for an inquisition by an independent authority.
Police Chief Al Schettino was also subsequently cleared of accusations relating to the same case, and would have to hang in the wind while the ethics probes were conducted. He too was cleared of any wrong doing, but where does he go to regain what was lost due to allegations made with retribution in mind?
Councilman Ken Honecker, although not accused of anything, was painted with the broad brush of insinuation by a local media outlet when they accused him of not being forceful enough in seeking to bring judgment against Batte, for what they saw as missteps regarding Batte’s problems. They then stated they couldn’t endorse him for re-election because of his stance of not to rush to judgment. Three days later, the independent Ethics Commission cleared Batte. Should they have reassessed their flawed view of Honecker? I’m sure that they won’t, and I’m sure there isn’t an office that Honecker can visit to remove that stain from his resume.
Now comes the issue of but another ethics complaint against Councilman Larry Sacher, who was alleged to have solicited a discount certificate from the Marriott, which was valued at the same discount given to an AARP or AAA member. Again, a one-year investigation finds nothing, but the smear remains by a close associate of the same sitting council member that orchestrated the digital media assault on Councilman Batte and Chief Schettino for his own personal agenda.
We’ve seen the same type of assault on law enforcement for their justified actions, as media outlets become more concerned about ratings than the truth. More concerned about political correctness and finding fault, before finding out the facts, while irreparably damaging reputations and lives.
Now, can elected and public officials be in the wrong? Of course they can, and they should be held to a high standard of ethical behavior. However, we should not let the process of protecting that high standard be manipulated for personal retribution against those that we might disagree with.
Those that choose to serve are responsible for their actions and statements, both past and present, while never being able to avoid their responsibilities to uphold the highest standards of ethics and service to the general public.
I wish there was a door I could direct those four individuals to, or an office they could go to as they seek to regain what was taken, but unfortunately there isn’t. I can only hope that those that will continue to serve will do so, and those seeking to serve will not be deterred from public service.
The rewards of public service are not financial, but your contributions and your accomplishments will be seen for generations to come.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com